From director Neill Blomkamp (District 9) comes this story about a police robot, which becomes a sentient being. To combat the high crime rate, the police force in Johannesburg has been replaced by artificially intelligent robotic scouts, who were designed by Deon Wilson (Dev Patel) for the weapons manufacturer Tetravaal. Tetravaal CEO Michelle Bradley (Sigourney Weaver) is quite happy with the scouts’ success rate, but she does not allow Deon to test a new advanced A.I. program.
Deon steals a broken scout to test the software on, but is subsequently hijacked by gangsters Ninja (Watkin Tudor Jones), Yolandi (Yolandi Visser), and Yankie (Jose Pablo Cantillo), who want to use the robot, who they name Chappie (voice and motion capture by Sharlto Copley), to help perform a heist. Meanwhile, rival Tetravaal engineer Vincent Moore (Hugh Jackman), who is fearful of artificial intelligence, begins plans to sabotage Deon’s scouts, so his human-controlled MOOSE robots can take their place.
It was nearly a decade ago when a young South African director named Neill Blomkamp was chosen by producer Peter Jackson to direct a film based on the videogame Halo. When the project fell through, due to budgetary reasons, Jackson instead produced a feature length version of Blomkamp’s 2006 short Alive in Joburg, which became 2009’s District 9. That film was big enough a success to attract a bigger budget and stars for Blomkamp’s 2013 follow-up Elysium, which was a moderate critical and box office success. For his third film Chappie, based on his 2004 short Tetra Vaal, Blomkamp moves the focus onto a sentient robot.
I have never been someone to to prejudge movies and I have always been willing to watch a film before generating an opinion on it. In that vein, I feel that Chappie probably rubbed people the wrong way from the initial trailers and watching the film only confirmed their growing negative opinions. Of course, any negativity that is thrown at Chappie isn’t entirely unwarranted.
There is undoubtedly some interesting concepts in Chappie, which is similar to the apartheid allegories in District 9, except with robots instead of aliens. In fact, the film seems to be trying to recreate the tone of District 9, complete with a documentary-style opening sequence. However, when it comes to the actual execution of the plot, Chappie is quite flawed.
Probably the biggest flaw of Chappie is Blomkamp’s decision to cast South African hip-hop group Die Antwoord in a major role in the film, as what is essentially fictionalized versions of themselves. Ninja is the worst offender, since he obviously can’t act, yet still gets a major chunk of the screentime. Yolandi Visser, who is essentially the film’s female lead, fares a little bit better, despite her oddness. As a side-effect of hanging out with gangsters, Chappie begins jive-talking and wearing bling, which is probably not the best creative decision on Blomkamp’s part.
If there is a redeeming quality to Chappie, it is the pretty enjoyable action-packed final act, which includes Hugh Jackman coming into his own as the film’s antagonist. On the other hand, Sigourney Weaver is practically wasted in the film, with her only real task being to say no to Deon, when he requests to test his new A.I. software.
While I will say that it is a stumble in the career of Neill Blomkamp, I will not go as far and say that Chappie is an outright disaster. It is a film that has some interesting themes and concepts, yet it is bogged down with a flawed execution and a heavy emphasis on hip-hop gangster robots.★ ★ ★ | WATCHABLE